KASPAR the social robot helping children with Autism to communicate
KASPAR is a child-sized humanoid robot with unique features designed to help children with autism develop their social interaction skills.
Since 2005, the Adaptive Systems research group led by Professor Kerstin Dautenhahn at the University’s School of Computer Science has been exploring the potential of this astounding little robot. Case study evaluations involving around fifty children with autism have been published and future work includes clinical studies.
According to the National Autistic Society, autism is “a lifelong developmental disability that affects how a person communicates with, and relates to, other people. It also affects how they make sense of the world around them.”
At present, autism is incurable and affects one in a hundred people; however, evidence shows that early intervention can affect how the disorder develops in later life. Children with autism are attracted to and willing to engage with robots as their use allows for a simplified, predictable and reliable environment. However, every case of autism is unique with each child exhibiting varying behavioural traits - these relate to how they translate their surroundings and social interactions in their minds.
How the University helped
Researchers from the University’s School of Computer Science have been developing interactive humanoid robots as therapeutic toys to help children with autism. KASPAR (short for Kinesics And Synchronisation in Personal Assistant Robotics) is a child-like robot which can be controlled and tailored to an individual child’s development needs. While it is obviously non-human, KASPAR has simplified human features, including minimal facial expressions and gestures.
Playing with KASPAR is a fun way for children with autism to improve their social interaction skills. The children engage with the robot in different play scenarios that are developed according to specific therapeutic or developmental objectives that are relevant for a particular child. Through robot-assisted play, the children are able to read feelings and communicate with KASPAR - an important stepping-stone towards helping them to interact more easily with other people. The robot has a dedicated interface for remote control, but can also play games with children autonomously.
Extensive study of children with autism aged between four and fourteen years has shown a marked improvement in the behaviour and social activity of some children after spending time with KASPAR. The robot promoted body awareness and a sense of self - helping children with autism to manage collaborative play and helping others to break their isolation.
KASPAR’s low-cost, safe and robust design, combined with its flexibility in how it can be used and tailored towards the needs of children with autism makes it particularly suitable for use in schools by therapists and teachers, and also at home by parents and siblings of children with autism.
The University is seeking to raise £1million to develop thirty more robots to undertake a five-year, large-scale evaluation to further develop the use of KASPAR to support children with autism.
KASPAR is part of a wider family of robots being studied by the team to explore how humans and robots interact with each other. The eventual aim is to create socially interactive robot companions to help groups such as children with special needs or the elderly stay in their own homes for longer.